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British financier Nathaniel Rothschild's bid for control of London-listed coal firm Bumi Plc may face a challenge as a major stakeholder sold 13 percent of voting rights ahead of a crucial shareholders' meeting.
Indonesia's powerful Bakrie family has been in boardroom tussles with Rothschild over control of the company and its lucrative coal assets in Indonesia since soon after the joint venture was set up in mid-2011 in a $3 billion deal.
Bakrie Group ally Rosan Roeslani has sold his 24 million shares in Bumi to three funds, including Flaming Luck, a company controlled by media mogul Hary Tanoesoedibjo.
Tanoesoedibjo is eyeing a deal with the Bakries to buy a majority stake in the family's Visi Media.
The two other funds that bought Roeslani's shares are Avenue Luxembourg and funds managed by Argyle Street Management Ltd. They are considered independent, but analysts say it is hard to imagine Roeslani would sell to a third party that would be hostile to him.
"The market reacted by assuming that the new shares purchases will give voting realignment for the Bakries," Wilianto Ie, Nomura Indonesia head of equities research, told AFP Tuesday.
Roeslani's move is seen by analysts as a way for Bakrie Group and its allies to increase their voting rights to 40 percent, from around 30 percent now, to overthrow Rothschild's proposal in the shareholders's meeting Thursday and continue with their proposed separation.
The politically-connected Bakries want a divorce from Bumi Plc by selling their 23.8 percent stake in the group, in return for a 10.3 percent of the highly prized Indonesia-based Bumi Resources, the crown jewel of the joint venture.
If agreed, the Bakries would buy the remaining 18.9 percent stake of Bumi Resources from Bumi for $278 million.
To counter that, Rothschild offers to replace 12 out of 14 Bumi board members to revamp the embattled firm whose shares slumped to about a third since it was set up in 2011.
The extraordinary shareholders' meeting on Thursday in London will decide on this proposal.
Every vote is crucial ahead of the meeting and both sides have been rallying for support.
The British Takeover Panel in December said the Bakrie Group, Roeslani and Samin Tan, who control about 60 percent of shares in the miner, should be considered as acting together. Thus the votes of the alliance will be capped at 29.9 percent in the shareholders' meeting.
The Bakries denied they influenced Roeslani to sell his stake.
"The news of the (Roeslani's) Recapital Group sale is a surprise development and we urge minority shareholders including those who have recently purchased Bumi shares to reject the Nat Rothschild resolution," Bakrie Group spokesman Chris Fong told AFP.
Rothschild could not immediately be reached for comment.